Jean Lievens: Sharing Economy Precariat — Brokering Labor to the Bone — While Neglecting True Costs and Redesign

03 Economy, 11 Society, Civil Society, Commerce
Jean Lievens
Jean Lievens

Check App. Accept Job. Repeat.

In the Sharing Economy, Workers Find Both Freedom and Uncertainty


Ms. Guidry, 35, earns money by using her own car to ferry around strangers for Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, ride services that let people summon drivers on demand via apps. She also assembles furniture and tends gardens for clients who find her on TaskRabbit, an online marketplace for chores.

Her goal is to earn at least $25 an hour, on average. Raising three children with her longtime partner, Jeffrey Bradbury, she depends on the income to help cover her family’s food and rent. That has become more unpredictable of late. Uber and Lyft, her driving mainstays, recently cut certain passenger fares. Last month, TaskRabbit overhauled the way its users select their helpers; immediately after the change, Ms. Guidry’s stream of new clients dried up.

“You don’t know day to day,” she said. “It’s very up in the air.”

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Phi Beta Iota: Anything less than a dollar a mile (50 cents for wear and gas, 50 cents for labor, home base door and return) is a losing proposition — to clear $25 an hour one must drive at least 50 billable miles in that hour. To make the $50,000 a year that $25 an hour would normally add up, one must have eight full revenue hours. Very few people achieve this, dog walkers being a possible exception. There are two sharing economies — perhaps many more. The first leverages existing assets and created variable income increases. The second leverages labor, and appears to be a losing proposition for most. What we see is a dearth of analytic models and a dearth of data — we see a desperate need for the rethinking and redesign of entire communities and cities to achieve cost of living reductions on the order of 50%, while optimizing the time-energy composition of the constituent individuals in any given community.

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